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Italy’s Unusual Pick For Biennale President

November 1, 2023

A red logo, with a vertical banner on the left-hand side reading 'la Biennale di Venezia', while the rest of logo listing the categories of the exhibition in Italian: art, architecture, cinema, dance, music, theater, and archive.

The Venice Biennale is one of the world’s most prolific cultural events. But thanks to a potential leadership change, it may change drastically for the foreseeable future. The president of the Biennale Foundation, Roberto Cicutto, is nearing the end of his four-year term. Though he is eligible to serve another two terms, Italy’s minister for cultural affairs can nominate someone new if the government chooses. And indeed, the government has put forth a name to replace Cicutto. However, that certain someone is an example of larger, possibly problematic, changes to come.

The culture minister, Gennaro Sangiuliano, has put forth his longtime friend, journalist Pietrangelo Buttafuoco, as the new president of the Venice Biennale. Buttafuoco is a writer closely linked with the far-right Italian political party Fratelli d’Italia, the party of Buttafuoco’s friend, the current Prime Minister Georgia Meloni. Buttafuoco has been involved with Italy’s right wing for decades, holding a leadership position in the youth wing of the Italian Social Movement political party, often considered the successor to Benito Mussolini’s Fascist Party. Of course, Buttafuoco is far from the first controversial nomination Meloni’s government has made in Italy’s art world. Since taking power last year, the government has appointed its “close friends” to leadership positions in the country’s major museums, in the national broadcasting service, and at the national film school despite no previous experience. Many have acknowledged this since Meloni and her party are granting political favors to those who had supported them in the elections.

Based on responses to his nomination from within Meloni’s government, it seems that knowledge of the art world or even knowing the basics of running a large, international event is irrelevant. What matters is that some see the arts as unconquered territory, the next target. Government members like Senator Raffael Speranzon have called the art world and its main events, like the Venice Biennale, “a fiefdom” for the left. So obviously, the solution to this perceived problem is… doing the exact same thing but for yourselves. What great problem-solving skills. Many, within Italy and beyond, have voiced their opposition to Buttafuoco’s nomination, saying that this is demonstrative of an attack rather than a liberation of Italy’s cultural institutions. Others have commented that Meloni is politicizing the Biennale and its leadership, which not only demonstrates a lack of understanding of what cultural events are meant to achieve but may indicate what more may come in the future.

With Buttafuoco nominated, he must be vetted and approved by the cultural committees of both houses of the Italian parliament. They will announce their decision on November 14th.